After various press reports and a press release by the Federal Ministry of Defence, it is clear: the awarding authority of the Bundeswehr Procurement Office has decided in favour of C.G. Haenel GmbH as the next supplier of the Bundeswehr assault rifle and thus as the successor to the HK G36. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur quotes from military circles that the choice fell on the weapon presented by Haenel for two main reasons: firstly, it was better tailored to the requirements of the military and secondly, it would also offer economic advantages. This had been established by extensive tests. C.G. Haenel GmbH was founded in 2008 as a new company in Suhl, Thuringia. It belongs to the Merkel Group, which in turn is part of the Tawazun Holding from the United Arab Emirates. The invitation to tender had already been running since 2017 and was designed for a quarter of a billion euros at that time. According to various reports, Heckler & Koch also took part alongside Haenel. The manufacturer from Oberndorf had submitted two offers: it was in the race with the HK416 and the HK433 models. SIG Sauer had originally also participated, but withdrew in the course of the proceedings. For the sake of good order, the BMVg points out that the defeated bidders still have the right to take legal action and that parliamentary approval of the decision is still to be obtained.
Haenel MK556: the Bundeswehr's next assault rifle?
It has not yet been officially confirmed what kind of weapon is involved. However, there is reason to believe that C.G. Haenel has entered its only known assault rifle into the race: the MK556 in .223 Remington caliber. This is a fully automatic rifle based on the AR-15 featuring a short-stroke gas piston system, which is considered to be more modern, instead of the direct gas impingement system.
A semi-automatic version is also available for the civilian and law enforcement market – the Haenel CR223. The semi-automatic (civilian) version Haenel CR223 has already been tested by all4shooters.com.
Statement by Heckler and Koch on the award decision for the new assault rifle of the German Armed Forces:
(We quote from a HK press release dated September 15, 2020)
Heckler & Koch has been informed today that neither of its two offers will be accepted in the German Armed Forces' tender for assault rifles. "Subject to an extensive legal review, we regret this decision," says CEO Jens Bodo Koch. "At the same time, we are absolutely convinced of the quality of both the HK416 and the HK433. This quality has also been confirmed to us by the Bundeswehr in the course of this tender. We do not have to shy away from any competition with our products".
This is also shown by the still very well filled order books. "The number of orders from all over the world is higher than we are currently able to process and demand continues to be high," Koch continues. "Heckler & Koch is and remains a profitable company again." For this reason, in the view of the Executive Board, there are no direct consequences for the employees at the Oberndorf site. "After the change of the majority shareholder a few weeks ago, we announced that the jobs in Oberndorf are secure. Nothing has changed in this regard," explains CFO Björn Krönert.
The offer submitted by Heckler & Koch for the new assault rifle of the German Armed Forces was based on the company's extensive experience with orders of this size, on a realistic and conscientious cost calculation for a high-tech product and on the company's responsibility for maintaining 950 jobs at the Oberndorf site. The triad of tradition, know-how and corporate responsibility has resulted in Heckler & Koch products being in demand worldwide for more than 70 years.
For the Bundeswehr tender, Heckler & Koch has once again improved the already technically highly developed HK416 and demonstrably met all tender conditions. This rifle has become the European assault rifle since its market launch. It is in use in numerous NATO countries, on the one hand as a standard weapon in Norway, France and the US Marine Corps, and as an assault rifle among many others with the special forces of the USA, Poland and Great Britain. At present, the Special Forces Command of the German Armed Forces (KSK) as well as the combat swimmers are also introducing this weapon as the G95k.
"We will now examine the decision in legal detail and exhaust all legal options," says CEO Jens Bodo Koch.
Technical background info: how the CR223 works – The civilian version of the MK556 from Haenel
Like the vast majority of all modern center-fire semi-auto rifles, the Haenel CR223 is a gas-operated gun with a rotating bolt. However, unlike a classic AR-15 design, the propellant gases tapped off in the barrel do not flow through a tube directly onto the bolt carrier (DI: Direct Impingement), but onto a short-stroke piston instead. The impulse of the piston then pushes the bolt carrier backwards, thus unlocking the locking mechanism. Much has been written and passionately discussed about the specific advantages and disadvantages of a short stroke piston system in general and its use in an AR-15 in particular. It remains undisputed that the piston systems are designed to carry less dirt into the receiver than direct gas impingement systems.
The Haenel CR223 at a glance
Improvements to an ordinary AR-15 system are also evident in terms of handling and safety: in the CR223 the safety can be activated in the uncocked condition and a firing pin safety device provides additional protection. One of its trademarks is the Dural handguard, which can be quickly removed via a lever for cleaning and maintenance. The images still show the older versions with the massive Quadrail design (interfaces: STANAG 4694) with continuous rails.
The components of the gun from Haenel in detail
Steel parts such as the cold-hammered barrel and the bolt assembly including the carrier make a high-quality impression. Even under the even anodisation of the Dural elements, the workmanship was noteworthy. Handguard and receiver presented cleanly machined surfaces, upper and lower receivers fit together largely without play. The single-stage trigger broke at just over 3 kilos, but felt much lighter due to its flawless, crisp characteristics. Both the polymer magazine and the 6-position telescopic stock were made by Oberland Arms. The stock seems very stable, offers four attachments for a sling or sling swivel in addition to a thin rubber pad and had comparatively little play on the tubular receiver extension. For a play-free AR-15 telescopic stock you'll require an additional blocking mechanism, as it is typical for various telescopic stocks from Magpul. The UPG pistol grip is made by CAA. The grip offers interchangeable backstraps in different sizes. In view of the fine workmanship of the other assemblies, the factory-fitted sight may be a little disappointing.
Haenel offers these variants on the civilian market
The standard single-stage trigger is not bad for a military firearm, but Haenel also offers a fine trigger for an extra charge. The safety can be operated from both sides, charging handle and magazine catch for right- and left-handed users are also offered. Four barrel lengths are available: the longest version currently has a 16.5”/423 mm barrel with 1/9" twist. Only the extra short 10" version has a 1/7" twist. The semi-automatic rifle is available in three colors. It is not yet known whether the German Army will purchase corresponding configurations of the MK556.
With the CR223 with 16.5" barrel on the shooting range
For the 100-m range, a 3-12x magnification riflescope from Bushnell on a Milmont mount from MAK replaced the Aimpoint of the 16.5" version. There were no malfunctions during shooting, the gun cycled perfectly with all types of cartridges including partially jacketed cartridges and the Tulammo load with steel case. The magazines used in the CR223 came from Hera Arms as well as from Colt production, in addition to the Oberland Arms/Haenel magazines supplied. None of the magazines caused problems, regardless of the manufacturer. The best grouping circle of the day – five shots in 0.67”/17 mm at 100 metres – was achieved with the 52-grain Sellier & Bellot load, with the average grouping circle of this type being just over 0.78”/20 mm. Apart from that, the Haenel CR223 was completely inconspicuous when fired – the recoil remains pleasantly light, in keeping with the caliber. For use in conjunction with a large riflescope with a 56 mm lens diameter, the telescopic stock could subjectively be a little higher. But for use with open sights or an optic with an appropriate height, everything was right. Accuracy, features and workmanship left a good impression.